LEOMINSTER, MA— For 100 years, United Solutions has been a manufacturing mainstay in Massachusetts, and today the company is proceeding into its next century with augmented resources and a focused strategy that it is following to remain vital in a changing marketplace.
With its headquarters and original factory operating in Leominster, MA, and a second plant turning out product in Sardis, MS, the company is investing to ensure it will remain a healthy part of the plastic, and plastic storage, segment that continues to thrive in the state.
United’s 100th year in operation is a big deal in itself, but it had a momentous prelude. In 2018, an investor group came on board and partnered with the Zephir family owners to refocus the business and make core investments in people, machinery, technology and processes. As such, Pat Murray, a member of the investment group, said, in effect, United Solutions combines a century of institutional experience and knowledge with new innovative, technology-enabled capacities to deliver for customers in a fast-moving and competitive marketplace. Last year, United, in its new incarnation, applied fresh resources to meet integration challenges experienced from the company’s other big development, the 2017 acquisition of the Rubbermaid storage tote business.
All the while, United has kept making progress toward its business goals. Since the new ownership entered the picture, United has narrowed its product line to focus on key product segments where it could compete most effectively, including totes under its own and the Rubbermaid brand, trash cans and painting products, with continued manufacture of a limited number of supplementary items maintained based on customer requests.
With the Rubbermaid totes acquisition, Murray said, United has a brand that it wants to build consistent with its long-ago established quality reputation. However, that effort is part of a larger push to enhance company capabilities with the intent of providing customers better quality product consistently and cost effectively through application of the proficient manufacturing that makes the term Made in the U.S.A. meaningful.
“We absolutely want to further the United Solutions and Rubbermaid brands to the consumer, but an equal focus will always remain on our brand and value proposition to our customers as a trusted, solutions-oriented vendor of enduring, quality products that consumers and businesses use every day,” he said.
Narrowing its product portfolio has allowed United to simplify operations and focus on adding mainline manufacturing and automation capabilities to boost quality and consistency, both in terms of product and delivery to customers, while still maintaining an effective cost position.
At the same time United has been refining manufacturing operations, it also has been honing warehousing practices, reducing the number of facilities to two, one in association with each of its manufacturing plants, and, like the factories, coming in at about 200,000 square feet. In an extremely competitive market environment, the application of technology to improve operational efficiency is important, Murray said.
Still, eliminating jobs isn’t the goal of United’s manufacturing and warehouse initiatives. Rather the intent is to ensure United remains efficient and competitive, he said, ultimately preserving jobs and the company’s economic contribution to Massachusetts and the U.S. United is offering training to help its employees be more effective and evolve with operations, including weighing an apprenticeship program.
Still, current labor shortages make system efficiencies, including the use of automation, imperative. In domestic manufacturing, the reality is the best standard is balance, where the company enlists necessary production efficiencies as they become critical while maintaining a safe workplace where employees can refine their skills and enhance their value in the labor market.
“The greater good is the sustainable path forward,” Murray said.
He noted that United would move ahead by ensuring it addresses the basics.
“Core to this is cross-functional coordination and operational planning,” Murray said. “I know that sounds really basic, but the level of connectivity we have across functions, especially between production and sales, is great. At the end of the day, it all gets to the same place: We strive to be the steady hand and reliable partner to our customers.”
To that end, United wants production fully primed to deliver on time at the quality and cost agreed. Although it goes back more than a decade, the company’s name change from United Plastic to United Solutions is representative of the approach to market prevalent today, Murray said, given the emphasis on applying resources where the company can best boost customer business in the storage category. To help its customers deliver to their customers, United is elevating its game on everything from logistics to omnichannel considerations to consumer feedback response, he noted, while amending operations to support the companies it works with as they address the preferences of ever-more-demanding shoppers.
“We’re not just trying to run our machines for the sake of running machines,” Murray said. “We need to continuously dial in our company around where the market is and evolve with it. We need to stay coordinated internally, and we need to go beyond the product itself and look at the entire picture from our customers’ and their customers’ vantage points if we’re going to be known as a go-to thought partner. As I see it, this has been a big driver of United’s success these past 100 years and will continue to drive us into the future.”